Akintunde Oyebode: From Myanmar with Love (YNaija Frontpage)

… change will not come from Freedom Park or NLC House, it is better to hedge their bets on the Three Arms Zone. Will the Falanas, Utomis, Agbakobas, Odumakins et al run dogged campaigns to get into the National Assembly?

Somewhere on my bucket list is a sub-list of three people I want to meet, all Nobel laureates. One is the winner of the Economic Sciences prize in 1998, Amartya Sen. I am enthralled by his contribution to Welfare Economics, and his devotion to world’s poorest people. If you doubt the basic principles of voting majorities, you might be interested in his work on Social Choice. But his greatest achievement was his book, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, where he demonstrated famine was not only caused by a lack of food, but from inequalities in the mechanisms of food distribution. The second is a winner for Literature in 1986, Wole Soyinka. Thankfully, Kongi needs no introduction, so I can quickly move to the third person.

The only woman on this list is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the prize for Peace in 1991. She was awarded that Nobel in recognition of her non-violent struggle to establish democracy and good governance in Myanmar. Fittingly, she was unable to accept the prize in person because of an enforced house arrest order, so her sons represented her in Oslo. Aung San Suu Kyi been placed under house arrest for over 15 years, with various negotiations yielding minimal success. The United Nations even sent Ibrahim Gambari to negotiate with the ruling junta, but his familiarity with despots (having worked with Babangida and Abacha) could not help. After almost two decades of separation with her family, during which she lost her husband to cancer, she was released from house arrest in November 2010.

On Sunday, this remarkable woman started the journey from prison to parliament. Her party announced her victory at the parliamentary elections, meaning the face of Myanmar democracy will hold public office for the first time. In simple terms, she will be one of 600 parliamentarians. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) will be a minority in a parliament dominated by the military-backed ruling party. What the numbers don’t say is this symbol of hope for a long-suffering people now has a platform to affect the lives of the people she has sacrificed herself for.

In a democracy far from perfect, she has taken the first step in ensuring her voice will be seen as the agent of change, and without doubt it will be magnified to the ears of the oppressive. In her famous speech Freedom from Fear, she said “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Many of us can relate to this quote in Nigeria. She now has a chance to demonstrate how power can be used positively, and provide a platform for more incisive change during the next elections.

It is a lesson for many civil society groups in Nigeria. Change will not come from Freedom Park or NLC House, it is better to hedge their bets on the Three Arms Zone. Will the Falanas, Utomis, Agbakobas, Odumakins et al run dogged campaigns to get into the National Assembly? Will many of us here make concerted efforts for our state House of Assemblies? How long will we complain about a process that is unlikely to help honest candidates? It is Voltaire who said “the best is the enemy of good.”  Most recently, I’ve heard Barack Obama and Kayode Fayemi rephrase that statement to read “never let the perfect be the enemy of good.”

At some point in the not too distant future, I will consider swapping my keyboard for the ballot box to seek elective office; I can’t see a credible alternative to this. As Ory Okolloh tweeted, the lesson from Aung San Suu Kyi’s courage, persistence, and determination is you can’t change things from the sidelines.

Comments (12)

  1. Akin, to borrow from the Airtel advert, thinking about swapping the keyboard for the ballot box is 5 years too late! Unless by this you mean an intention to formally seek elective office, groundwork should have been started many years ago: to ingratiate yourself with the controllers of power, and to make your face known to the people whose fingers will be stained with the evidence of voting.

    Our electoral system is fundamentally flawed, as the electorate cannot effectively determine the elected (read rigging). Even if this is achieved, we still exhibit a significant drawback of democracy: an ignorant majority is as dangerous as a tyrannical minority. An impoverished people with an extra 'burden' of a flawed value system will make it difficult to come into politics as an 'impact substitute', who has hitherto not been seen, or heard of, by many.

    So, Boss, let me know when, where and how you intend to formally make that foray, and I will be available to support you with the meagre resources at my disposal.

    Like you rightfully signed off, change cannot be made from the sidelines.

  2. Modu,

    It is time for 'critics' to walk the talk, otherwise all the talk is pointless. Let us start with the legislature and test the separation of powers.

    This is a marathon not a sprint, we must not expect quick results.

  3. Akin I must commend you on the brilliant but small piece you have written. As rightly stated by 'E' it is possible to be in Government and still be sidelined by forced silence.Our form of Government is truly peculiar to this part of the world. Take for example Fela Anikulapo Kuti who is the most specifically political musician ever…he spoke to the soul of the society and the world and sought change not through force of arms, for which lesser men are known, or the shifty wiles of politics, but rather through the honest and inimitable power of his art and intellect, the natural. Instrument of the human voice and the righteous might of truth.When he wanted to run for the office of President, his party the Movement of the People(M.O.P) was not allowed to register at the 1979/83 elections. My view is that even though Fela was a great social critic he might not have made a good leader politically. So that you await the emergence of these social critics in politics might not be the 'best'…it might be 'good' though. A new example would be Dr. Reuben Abati

  4. Hephzibah, God bless you for your comment. And Akin, once day it will all make sense. I guess the next article is what party to join. I know Tolu wrote something about joining the PDP. The bottom line is we need to be the change we wanna see! This our Nigeria must change for the better.

  5. This right here is the kind of conversation I find rare yet objective and progressive.

    It isn't the PDP screwing us over, in my opinion, it is actually the elite in the opposite political class. With egos too big for their own good, the Utomi's & co would rather run mushroom parties than form a formidable opposition

  6. Good job Akin, the legislature is the key to changing our country. We need to alter the current composition of the National Assembly.

  7. Ebuka – that is the point I hope our civil society leaders recognise. There are several opportunities to add value outside being president or governor. As is often said, why seek strong people when we can build strong institutions.

    Iyin – your comment is consistent with your views, which I hope to share sometime.

  8. Well outlined piece. It didn't escape my notice though, the fact that she's had from the start, a clear-cut direction(mission), so when the opportunity presented itself, she grabbed it and viola! Some of us, even though for now we are watching/commenting from the sideline, are yet to make up our mind on which direction (our mission)! Even when it comes to our leaders: are we for 'chop I chop' or 'show working while chopping' or 'you came to serve..serve!'.

  9. Great piece but I still think its possible to be in government and be sidelined by by forced silence.

  10. Well written!

  11. My respect for her went a notch higher when she didn't wait to run for President. That's the biggest lesson Nigerians need to learn. Not everyone will get the top job. Not everyone should get the top job. The legislature will always be the most important arm of government. Something Nigerians have become all too aware of recently…

    Good job Akin!

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